Last month I had the privilege of visiting Washington D.C. to accept the Chief’s Honor Award—the highest awards given out by the U.S. Forest Service to publically recognize exemplary achievements in Forest Service programs that contribute to the Service’s strategic goals.
The Engaging Urban America award—the award presented—recognizes Forest Service individuals, work units, partnerships, or groups that have demonstrated major achievements in promoting conservation education, community “greening” efforts, and management of urban forests and youth opportunities to volunteer in urban forestry activities in their neighborhoods.
As Chief of the USDA Forest Service Tom Tidwell and others spoke of the award I was taken by the power and influence of partnerships. This was an achievement of federal, state and local collaboration. Public and private partners engaged to change the lives of children in Denver. It was a memorable experience to witness how Nature Explore, and more importantly, the challenge of connecting young people with nature has been embraced and championed by so many with a common goal. In this case, it was an opportunity to recognize US Forest Service team members who are leading the way.
I accepted the award on behalf of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation for our work with the Warren Village project. Warren Village is a program that helps motivated, previously homeless single parent families to move from public assistance to personal and economic self-sufficiency through subsidized housing, on-site child care, educational guidance and career development.
The Certified Nature Explore Classroom at the Greta Horowitz Learning Center at Warren Village is unique for multiple reasons. The Center uses Creative Curriculum, a child-centered approach in which the children’s interests drive a variety of projects. The Center is located in downtown Denver, and although there is a public park close to the Nature Explore classroom at Warren Village, residents of Warren Village wouldn’t use it out of fear of their safety. This Nature Explore classroom gives mothers and children the comfort of security with the enjoyment of outdoor exploring.
This project was a collaboration of organizations, including the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado State Forest Service and Colorado Parks & Wildlife. The sponsored classroom illustrates the great work we can do when we come together.
Additionally, the outdoor space at Warren Village serves as a model of how communities can engage local partners. One example of its effect is in Philadelphia, where a second classroom is being created with the help of the Philadelphia Water Department, Philadelphia Horticultural Society and Philadelphia Forest Service.
It is meaningful to be part of something that is enriching lives through outdoor classrooms and inspiring to see where else our collaborations will lead us.